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One Giant Leap | An Alternate History of Space Exploration


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3 minutes ago, Catto said:

Sir, Question; Would you be so kind as to send me a link to your modpack, or at the very least, your modlist?

Bluedog Design Bureau for American Parts

Tantares for Russian parts

modular launch pads for well, launch platforms

 

thats what I know from looking

Edited by Adam-Kerman
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11 minutes ago, Adam-Kerman said:

Bluedog Design Bureau for American Parts

Tantares for Russian parts

modular launch pads for well, launch platforms

 

thats what I know from looking

I'll download those

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21 minutes ago, Catto said:

Sir, Question; Would you be so kind as to send me a link to your modpack, or at the very least, your modlist?

I have too many mods, I primarily use BDB and Tantares, but I do utilize Near Future and other mods in some cases. (i like to kitbash) :)

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The Next Generation

The idea of a reusable spaceplane is about as old as the Space Age itself, for decades people have dreamed of an aircraft that would take off, fly to space, deploy payloads, perform science, or in the case of the Air Force's X-20 Dyna-Soar, perform reconnaissance. This had been a major focus of NASA since the around 1968, and was envisioned as the way to go in a post-Apollo program. This manifested in the Integrated Program Plan, but due to concerns about the flamboyance of the project, eventually evolved into the Space Transportation System, or STS. This STS, nicknamed the "Space Shuttle" would be a reusable launcher capable of delivering payloads in excess of 30 tons to Low Earth Orbit, and carry a crew of up to 7, or with an additional seat an 8-man crew.

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While initial ideas proposed using Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) as the system for boosting the Shuttle and it's External Tank off the pad, developmental concerns and safety concerns lead to NASA ultimately decided to go with a Saturn V S-IC placed underneath the External Tank to boost the stack off the launchpad. This would rapidly accelerate development time, as all efforts could be put on the Orbiter and External Tank. With a predicted first launch in 1977, rather than 1979 with the SRBs.

The S-IC would perform practically the same task that it would on the Saturn V, boosting the stack to high altitude, but shortly before cutoff the Orbiter's 3 Space Shuttle Main Engines, some of the most advanced and complex rocket engines to date, would ignite, and bring the Shuttle to almost orbit using the fuel from the External Tank, before the hypergolic-powered Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) thrusters would perform the final orbital insertion, and perform on-orbit maneuvers, including de-orbit.

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Earlier concepts suggested rather than an External Tank, the Shuttle carry its own propellant, however this would limit the amount of payload volume available, moving all of the fuel into a large External Tank maximized the payload capabilities for the Space Shuttle, so this arrangement was decided upon.

This so-called "Saturn-Shuttle" would be the backbone of NASA's future plans, allowing for revolutionary mission plans, and never before seen capabilities. Many ideas included the Space Shuttle supporting a manned Mars mission in the 1980sand NASA really liked that idea. Whether the funding would be there in the 1980s was to be seen, however NASA remained optimistic as always.

Meanwhile, NASA was charging ahead with a brand new upgraded Saturn V, to support Phase 2 of Apollo, and the Saturn-Shuttle. This so-called "Block II", would feature many upgrades, not only to the rocket itself, but it's launch infrastructure. 

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The Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) would require a height extension, and a new improved lightning mast would be added atop the hammerhead crane. The swing arms would be re-positioned to accommodate the height increase of the rocket and the Crew Access Arm and Crew Floor moved higher for the same reason.

For the rocket itself. the F-1 engine would be uprated to the new F-1A, which produce higher thrust (1.8 million pounds compared to the current 1.55 million pounds), and had key improvements for ease of manufacturing, and cost reduction.

The new MS-II upper stage would switch to 7 J-2S engines, an upgraded variant of the venerable J-2.

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And the new S-IVC upper stage, which was stretched in length compared to the S-IVB, and with 2 J-2S engines.

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Concepts for a reused S-IC were studied, including an idea for a massive helicopter that would catch it out of the sky! But that's totally ridiculous, right? NASA decided to keep the Saturn V a fully expendable launch vehicle.

Overall, the Saturn V Block II was cheaper, and more capable than its predecessor, and would ensure the Saturn V remained a modern launch vehicle for Apollo's continuation through the 1970s.

But the Saturn V was not alone, Apollo would also see key upgrades. The new "Block III" Apollo would be the best version yet, with a planned roadmap of upgrades to support not only Apollo, but the Skylab program.

Initially changes would be only minor, weight reduction a new high gain antenna, all that jazz. The major planned upgrades for later were substantial however. The planned inclusion of 2 more seats in the capsule, for a total of a 5-man crew. Apollo would not be in the position to utilize this upgrade, however Skylab certainly would, having 5 people on a long-duration mission aboard America's Space Station would be a valuable capability. And quite possibly open the door for international astronauts to visit the station. 

And additionally for Skylab, the new "Mission Module", which would serve as a cargo hold, and an adapter between the Apollo probe-and-drogue docking system, and Skylab's planned Common Docking System (CDS) which would be used to connect the planned new Skylab modules. This CDS allowed for larger equipment to be transferred around the new modules, no longer constrained to the tight and limited probe-and-drogue system. Skylab missions would also trade the AJ-10 Service Propulsion System engine for a modified Lunar Module Ascent Engine (LMAE).

The last major upgrade was the removal of the fuel cells, at least as the primary power source, and switching to a solar powered Apollo CSM. New solars would be added to the Service Module, and deployed after the CSM released from the upper stage. The fuel cells would remain as an emergency source of power generation, but would hopefully be, at some point, fully eliminated.

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The Block III CSM would serve as the transportation service of American astronauts until the Shuttle was proven safe enough to fully replace it.

These new rockets and spacecraft would be NASA's fleet for the 1970s, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and further proving that NASA is the world's premier space agency.

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The Next Step

December 7th, 1972: Apollo 17 ascends into the starry skies of Cape Canaveral, the final Phase 1 Apollo Mission is underway.

The Crew:

Commander | Eugene Cernan

Command Module Pilot | Ronald Evans

Lunar Module Pilot | Harrison Schmitt

"We have a liftoff and it's lighting up the area! It's just like daylight here at Kennedy Space Center as the Saturn V is moving off the pad!"

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As one reporter put it: "We are ushering in a new era of lunar exploration, Apollo 17 closes the chapter on the previous era, but gives us a glimpse into the treasures that await us in the future.

Apollo 18, the first Phase 2 mission, was slated for May, but it was looking far more likely that a launch in June would actually happen. Meanwhile, NASA was preparing for Skylab's debut as the calendar turned to 1973. The OWS was nearing its conversion of the LOX tank into extra habitable space, a larger passage way was created so that larger equipment could be transferred between the 2 domes, and the docking adapter's tunnel had been widened for the same reason.

NASA had decided to ultimately go ahead with Big Skylab, despite objections from many, nothing would stop NASA from getting its mega space station. Assembly would begin with the OWS launching in early 1974, and assembly planned to be completed by 1978, although this was a very optimistic timeline.

Meanwhile, the Soviets had gotten their ducks in a row, and Luna 5 took to the skies in early January 1973. Orbiting in the Soyuz above was Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and now, at age 35, the first woman to orbit the Moon. This is one of the areas where the US had still not responded, to the day an American woman had never flown to space, despite many pushing for it to happen.

Nevertheless, whether the motives were genuine or just another attempt to one-up the Soviets, NASA recalled 5 of the Mercury 13  for re-evaluation as potential astronauts, this time officially. When the news broke out it was a major deal, and the reaction was mixed, but regardless, the training pushed on, only 2 managed to pass, Wally Funk and Gene Nora Jessen, and were to be formally accepted as astronauts in the spring. Training was expected to be rushed, and Gene Nora Jessen would be hurried to the flight line to serve on the first orbital flight of the Saturn IG, designated Apollo Orbit-1. Wally Funk was planned to be trained as Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 21.

The push for more women to be accepted as astronauts was strong, especially after this, but NASA had already planned for a brand new group of astronauts to be selected in 1974, so there was no rush.

Regardless, NASA's plans for the 1970s were coming to life, and as the first Saturn V Block II began stacking in High Bay 1 of the VAB for Apollo 18, a new era had dawned, NASA had gone to the Moon, and they sure as heck weren't going to leave.

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Phase 2

Stepping off into the unknown, on the adventure of a lifetime.

June 3rd, 1973: Apollo 18 is poised on LC-39A, the mighty Saturn V Block II is ready for launch this morning, and now the crew have boarded Apollo spacecraft.

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Richard Gordon

Command Module Pilot | Vance Brand

Lunar Module Pilot | Joe Engle

SATURN V AS-521 (Block II resets the serial number count, second digit changed from 1 to 2 to indicate Block II)

CSM "Yorktown"

LM "Hornet"

Landing Site: Copernicus Crater

Joe Engle was originally planned to be on Apollo 17, but due to scientists pushing for a geologist on the surface as soon as possible, Schmitt and Engle swapped missions. The launch had been scheduled for June 1st but was aborted due to a technical issue with a CSM computer. Regardless the teams pushed forward and 2 days later the launch vehicle was ready to fly once more. All systems were go, as CBS News went live at T-2 hours, with Walter Cronkite hosting as always.

"T-1 minute and counting, Commander Richard Gordon says all systems are looking good, Houston copies, says the same, we are looking good for a launch this morning."

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"T-15 seconds, we have final guidance release."

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"T-10, 9, 8, we have ignition sequence start..."

 

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"And we have all engines running and we have a liftoff! The Saturn V moving up under 9 million pounds of thrust!"

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"Thrust is good on all engines, trajectory is nominal, pitch looks good."

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"18, Houston, you are GO for staging!"

"Roger, GO for staging!"

"Staging..."

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"Ignition on all 7!"

"And we have confirmed good MS-II stage ignition, all 7 J-2S engines propelling the rocket now."

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"Staging..."

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"And good ignition on both engines!"

"Nominal S-IVC startup confirmed."

Apollo 18 would land at Copernicus Crater on June 7th, 1973, and spend a total of 3 days, and 12 hours on the surface. The new "Enhanced ALSEP" would be deployed, and a total of four EVAs conducted. The mission would be a taste of what was to come, as NASA continued work on another major Phase 2 plan: The Extended Habitation LM. The EH-LM as it was abbreviated, added an inflatable habitat deployed from the LM's Descent Stage, and would provide a larger habitable area for the crew.

The plan was for by the end of Phase 2 to have conducted surface stays of up to 5 days in length, and the EH-LM was crucial to this goal. This was planned to be first used on Apollo 21. The LM would also see many upgrades so that eventually both the LRV and habitat could be brought on the same mission, for maximum capabilities. 

By the time August rolled around, the first Saturn IG had rolled out to 39B for the inaugural flight of NASA's newest new rocket. And on this flight would be Gene Nora Jessen,  who would become the first American woman in space. The overall goals for this mission, Apollo Orbit-1, was to not only validate the Saturn IG, but Skylab hardware, including the new Mission Module. The crew would stay on orbit for 1 week, before returning for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Stuart Roosa

Command Module Pilot | Russell "Rusty" Schweickart 

Mission Specialist | Gene Nora Jessen

Objectives: Validate the Saturn IG Launch Vehicle, Skylab Hardware & Mission Profile.

August 15th, 1973Apollo Orbit-1 launches into Low Earth Orbit, with the first American woman in space.

"All systems are looking good, we remain go for launch at this time."

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"T-10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, we have engine ignition!"

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"And we have a liftoff of the Saturn IG rocket! Moving off the pad and into the sky!

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"Staging..."

"Good S-IVC startup!"

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The first launch of the Saturn IG is picture perfect, and the mission goes over fantastically, and lands in the Pacific Ocean on August 22nd, 1973. Gene Nora Jessen becomes the first American woman in space, and the crew receive a hero's welcome back in the US.

Overall, all of the mission objectives are completed. Successful launch, extraction of the Mission Module, and an "imaginary rendezvous with Skylab" by using a fixed point in space as something to reach, similar to Gemini's early rendezvous training.

The Mission Module provided a much more comfortable living space for the crew, and also carried a Skylab docking port on its forward end, although not a functional one. This validated the Block III spacecraft in LEO for Skylab missions, and the planned mission profile. All that was needed is a successful launch of the station itself, slated for early 1974 still.

Meanwhile, Skylab 80 preparations were underway, fabrication of the first additional module, named Union, was underway, this was a lab module, and carried the big "cupola" which would provide stunning views of the Earth from the station, although this cupola had proven to be a bit of a headache, it was nevertheless seen as a necessary component. The OWS was now practically ready for launch, but would have to wait a few more months regardless.

NASA was pushing forward now with the second Phase 2 Apollo mission, Apollo 19, which was slated for November/December. Apollo Orbit-2 was also planned for November, and would be a further second test flight of the Saturn IG and Block III, with a more advanced testing profile.

Apollo was proceeding splendidly, and NASA's support base remained strong, the Soviets however were beginning to experience issues, and another N-1 flight was not going to happen until 1974 guaranteed.

Which raises the question, why keep flying to the Moon if the Soviets can't keep doing it themselves? 

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Hear Me Out

On September 2nd, 1973, the NASA Administrator stood before Congress in a Congressional hearing, mainly focused around spending and considering the continued support for NASA. The questions were the usual politician stance, completely unaware of what was going on. But Administrator Fletcher performed about as well as anyone could do, and saved the agency from a potentially dangerous fallout.

Afterwards, NASA continued focusing on preparations for not only Apollo 19, but Apollo-Orbit 2 and the launch of Skylab. In September, the VAB was at its busiest since the rapid-Apollo launch pace of late 1968 and early 1969. With Apollo-Orbit 2 preparing for rollout, and Apollo 19 and Skylab undergoing stacking.

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The S-IC for Skylab's launch awaits the MS-II and Skylab itself in High Bay 2 as stacking operations are underway for the launch of Skylab, just next door, Apollo Orbit-2 is fully stacked and preparing for rollout, and Apollo 19 is undergoing preparations after the completion of stacking.

Outside the VAB, NASA was beginning to realize that at some point, LC-39A and B might no longer be sufficient for the flight rate required, and thus NASA has yet again returned to an old concept to help them in the present.

In the original plans for Launch Complex 39, NASA envisioned 4 launchpads, and possibly a 5th, and "Pad C" was even already labeled on the complex warning system which the iconic Saturn V had been in the backdrop of photos of during rollouts.

But now NASA realized that Pad C and Pad D would be necessary for the future, especially considering the Space Shuttle and it's optimistic high flight rate. The initial challenge was clearing the swamps of Cape Canaveral for the pads and crawlerway, which had taken time because of the considerations needed for the local wildlife, but eventually ground broke on LC-39C on November 5th, 1973, with hopes for the pad's completion by late 1976, and activation sometime in 1977. 39D would be started early next year, and would come online in late 1977 hopefully.

Apollo Orbit-2 was delayed due to a faulty valve in the CSM, which allowed Apollo 19 to launch first on the range.

November 19th, 1973: The Launch of Apollo 19

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Fred Haise

Command Module Pilot | William Pogue

Lunar Module Pilot | Gerald Carr

CSM "Ranger"

LM "Conestoga"

Landing Site: Hyginus rille 

The landing site was of extreme scientific importance to scientists on the ground, and Apollo 19 would plan to perform an even longer stay on the surface (3 days 18 hours total planned), with an extended fourth EVA because of this. 

"T-1 minute and counting, Commander Fred Haise has reported in that the crew have taken their final actions before liftoff, and that they're all in good shape."

"CAPCOM replies says it's been a great count, CDR copies."

...

"T-15 seconds, final guidance release!"

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"T-12, 11, 10, 9, we have a go for ignition sequence start... 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... all engines running!"

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"And we have all engines running and we have a liftoff! Liftoff of the Saturn V rocket here at the Kennedy Space Center! Apollo 19 moving off the pad now!"

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"Pitch and roll look good, vehicle following the nominal trajectory."

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"19, Houston, GO for Staging."

"Roger Houston, GO for Staging!"

...

"Staging..."

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"And good ignition on all 7!"

"We have confirmation of nominal MS-II startup."

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"Aye, thanks for the window view!"

Commander Fred Haise, who was previously the Lunar Module Pilot on the aborted Apollo 13, would finally get his chance to step out on the Lunar surface, as he and Gerald Carr exited Lunar Module Conestoga on November 23rd, 1973, and Hyginus rille. 

One promise down, 2 to go.

The mission would be a massive success, despite a few hiccups along the way, the mission still reached a new record at 3 Days and 16 Hours on the surface, an issue with the batteries on the Lunar Module required the surface stay to be shortened slightly.

The crew would find some possible evidence of volcanic rock at Hyginus, a main objective of the mission, but no 100% certain evidence was found. Regardless, a successful new ALSEP deployed as well, and a series of successful geologic traverses too.

The crew splashed down back on Earth on November 28th, 1973. NASA now pushed forward with Apollo Orbit-2, the final NASA launch for the year.

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Jack Lousma

Command Module Pilot | Owen Garriott 

Mission Specialist | Wally Funk

Objectives: Further validation of the Saturn IG and Apollo Block III, testing of rendezvous and docking of Block III and the Mission Module using a dummy target.

 

Apollo Orbit-2 would, as stated, use a dummy target pre-attached to the Mission Module, with a Skylab Module Port (SMP) to practice docking using the Block III and Mission Module combined as one. This was mainly because of the mass shift by the addition of the Mission Module, and NASA wanted to validate that this had no effect on docking operations.

The mission would also of course serve as the second test flight of the Saturn IG, which performed flawlessly on Apollo Orbit-1. Additionally, this would be the in-flight training for Wally Funk, who was still undergoing training as the Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 21.

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A picture-perfect launch on December 2nd, 1973, and a fully successful mission, returning to Earth on December 9th, 1973, 1 year to the day after the launch of Apollo 17.

Now the biggest thought in the mind of NASA was the launch of Skylab's core Orbital Workshop, which had now been officially designated Prosperity. Stacking was completed in January, and preparations began for rollout in mid-late February.

The Soviets were also beginning preparations at last for Luna 6, targeting roughly the same time as Apollo 20 for a mission to the Moon.

Which raises the question, what if astronauts and cosmonauts met on the surface of the Moon?

 

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America's Space Station

March 10th, 1974. SA-523 rolls out to Launch Complex 39A for the launch of Skylab, or more specifically, the Prosperity Orbital Workshop. Skylab will be the first American Space Station, even just the OWS alone dwarfing the small Soviet Salyuts. Prosperity will be the heaviest payload ever launched to orbit, weighing in at over 80 tons, necessitating the mighty Saturn V for launch. Meanwhile, the third Saturn IG, SA-303, prepared in High Bay 2 for the launch of Skylab 1, the first crewed mission to the space station.

(Note: In our timeline the launch of Skylab was labeled Skylab 1, and the crewed missions were Skylab 2, 3, and 4 respectively. Because of the extended modular Skylab in this timeline, missions that launch modules are designated SAF-x (Skylab Assembly Flight-x), the launch of Prosperity is SAF-1)

Skylab 1 would launch a week or so after the launch of Prosperity, and the crew would perform a short stay aboard the station outfitting it for future longer missions. NASA envisioned a stepping-up process to the eventual planned 200-day stay for each crew. In terms of the additional modules, fabrication of Union was already complete, and a launch was planned for the fall, using an ARV tug to deliver the module to the station.

Speaking of ARV, development had run into a few hiccups but was overall going well, it wouldn't be needed until around Skylab 6 as the Mission Module and CSM could carry sufficient supplies for the on-orbit stays for the first 5 missions.

One of the things that had to be sacrificed with Skylab 80 was the Apollo Telescope Mount and the Solar Telescope, a gargantuan assembly for solar astronomy, while scientists weren't happy about this, NASA approved a project to covert the Solar Telescope into the Apollo Solar Telescope (AST), an independent Space Telescope which would launch within the next 2 years, under the management of the Apollo Projects Agency (APA).

Nevertheless, time for launch!

April 30th, 1974: The launch of Prosperity, the core of Skylab. The assembly of America's Space Station is underway.

"On time liftoff of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Prosperity module, the first component of Skylab!"

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"Vehicle is following a nominal trajectory, T+ 45 seconds."

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The MS-II starts up and propels Prosperity the rest of the way to orbit.

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(Screenshots look different because I've reached the point where I've already completed stuff in the timeline, so yes it won't be the pretty Apollo-Saturn revamp textures for a while but it would be a pain to re-do 2 months of work and I'd rather put my effort into writing these posts out more and continuing work on the rest of the timeline.)

Prosperity successfully reaches orbit, as the Saturn IG for Skylab 1 heads out to 39B for a launch targeting May 8th.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has been awfully quiet lately, what are they up to? Well the answer is... something.

The United States Air Force had tried and failed twice to get its own Crewed orbital spacecraft, first, with the X-20 Dyna-Soar, and then with the Manned Orbiting Laboratory and Gemini B. But as new spacecraft come around, the Air Force will always ask the question: can we use this as a manned spy satellite?

The answer is yes... with enough funding and lack of sanity of course. Thus in 1971 the USAF began working with NASA to develop the Apollo CSM into an Air Force crewed spacecraft. This program, known quite simply as "Air Force Apollo" was to be at first 2 missions, utilizing the trusty Titan IIIC and an Apollo CSM (heavily underfueled and somewhat stripped down so that it could actually be carried on the Titan rocket) for a 1-week orbital mission each.

After several delays and near cancellation, NASA delivered to the Air Force the Apollo CSM planned to be used on the mission, and preparations began for a launch in June/July.

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Is it weird? Yes. But the Air Force is desperate at this point so if it works it works.

Regardless, NASA prepared for the launch of Skylab 1, the first crewed mission to Skylab, just over a week after the launch of Prosperity.

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Pete Conrad

Science Pilot | Joseph Kerwin

Mission Specialist | Paul Weitz

Objective: Outfit the OWS for future crews and additional modules, and conduct planned research.

CBS went live at T-minus 1 hour, to the most abysmal quality video feed of the Apollo program, for some unknown reason, the coverage was absolutely horrendous quality, even for a 70s live feed it was awful. But regardless the launch was picture perfect, and the CSM (the crew did not name it, as it wasn't necessary unlike regular Apollo missions with 2 spacecraft to differentiate from) successfully extracted the Mission Module.

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The giant AJ10-137 Service Propulsion System engine had been replaced by the teeny tiny Lunar Module Ascent Engine, as the large engine was unnecessary for a Skylab mission.

After 18 hours, the crew began the approach towards the OWS for docking.

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Docked!

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(Salyut who?)

Later in the mission 2 spacewalks are performed to install navigation lights to aid nighttime docking, and several instruments and other pieces of hardware on the outside of the station.

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The lights were successfully installed and tested once the station reached the dark side of the orbit. Spacewalk 2 occurred 4 days later and installed an infrared spectrometer, camera sets, handrails, and wiring towards the aft section for when Union arrives in the fall.

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A prototype solar array is also tested, deployed from the SIM bay.

After the mission is extended 1 week, the crew undock from Skylab and prepare for the return home.

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Safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on July 12th, and the crew of Skylab 1 have set a new record for the longest US crewed mission at 65 days.

Meanwhile, Apollo 20 rolls out to 39A as Air Force Apollo-A prepares at complex 40.

2 Apollos, 2 entirely different missions.

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RULE BRITANNIA

The issues with the development of Europa, and now the major redesign plan, have encouraged Britain to work more independently. Thus, on August 2nd, 1974, Britain formally withdraws from the Europa project, France and Germany, unbothered, continue work on the revised and refreshed Europa, with France now building the hypergolic first stage, and optional strap-on SRBs and LRBs, and Germany working on the new hydrolox second stage.

In charge of Britain's new vision for its space program was the British Space Agency, or BSA. Formed in 1972 the BSA was initially just an advisory agency to oversee Britain's part in the Europa project, but now the agency's objectives are to design, contract out, and operate the new planned rocket series. Despite pushback from many in the British government, seeing spaceflight as "unnecessary for Britain", the BSA's budget was already so tiny there wasn't much justification to shrink it further. So the small agency managed to survive and continue onwards.

The BSA began work on a brand new rocket series, roughly derived from the Blue Streak, but not really. This new rocket was named Comet. It would be 3 stages, with a kerolox first stage, kerolox second stage, and a hypergolic third stage which would be kept within the fairing with the payload. The baseline configuration was expected to be capable of 1 ton to LEO. With a first flight hopefully in 1975. Comet would have the option for up to 12 strap-on SRBs, which allowed for high modularity of the rocket.

Comet would be rather unusual however. The first stage had an unusual taper, and the rocket used a "petal cover" , similar to America's Jupiter missile, which allowed weather protection for ground crews while doing work in the rainy conditions of northern Scotland. This petal cover meant Comet's SRBs sat unusually high on the first stage.

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The next major issue was where in the world they would launch Comet, relations with the French over backing out of Europa made Kourou not likely, and the British government would probably find some way to stop the BSA from getting a lease anyhow. The next option was Woomera, already built up for Europa and the now failed Black Arrow project, but once again, the cost seemed too great.

The solution came in the far north of Scotland, at one of the most historic bodies of water in the country.

Scapa Flow.

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A new launchsite would be built on the island of South Ronaldsy, already connected to the mainland Orkney Islands. The rocket stages would be assembled on the launchpad, dubbed "Comet Launch Complex-1" (CLC-1), inside the Mobile Assembly Building (MAB), the MAB would then be rolled back and the rocket could be launched.

Infrastructure had to be as simple and cost effective as possible, as the BSA was working on what could be truly described as a shoestring budget. The stages would be built on the island, and then moved to the launch site, this would bring more jobs to the island, and improving the local economy, something that would be hard to justify getting rid of.

The construction of the launchsite made national headlines, the BSA had met opposition, but also a wave of support. A new source of national pride for Britain in an era where not much was to be found.

 

 

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Orbit

NASA's schedule for the rest of 1974 could be considered it's busiest to date. We're gonna take this one step at a time, as there is much to go over.

Following the success of Skylab 1, Skylab 2 launches from LC-39B on the second crewed expedition to America's Space Station.

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Alan Bean

Pilot | Jack Lousma

Mission Specialist | Vance Brand

Objectives: Spend 81 days aboard the Skylab station, and oversee the arrival of the Union module.

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This is the first night launch of the Saturn IG, and the first night launch of the Saturn I-rocket family since the launch of SA-8 (also known as AS-104). 

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A successful launch for Skylab 2. In addition, the S150 experiment was deployed after OMM extraction. The S150 experiment was designed to look for soft galactic X-rays. The experiment ran for 5 hours and was able to map half of the sky.

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Successfully docked to the station, and primed for the 81-day mission.

Up next is the launch of the Union, the first additional module to Skylab. Union is primarily a laboratory module, and has an interesting unique feature: a large windowed structure at its forward section, known as a cupola. The Cupola allows for Earth Observation on a much higher level. Maximized visibility will allow crews to take excellent photographs of not only Earth's surface, but the horizon and atmosphere, and the sky too. Union will also serve as the core of the Forward Module Block, a set of 5 modules on the forward section of Skylab, pretty self explanatory. The module, although far below its capabilities, will be launched on the first Saturn III rocket, mainly to demonstrate the rocket and allow NASA to stop going through Saturn IGs at a high rate.

But wait, Saturn III, what's that? Well, let me fill you in.

NASA has long envisioned the Saturn rocket family growing beyond just the Saturn I and the mighty Saturn V. The gap between these 2 launchers is enormous. The Saturn IG, a rocket capable of about 24 tons to LEO, while the monstrous Saturn V Block II is capable of 145 tons to LEO (with the S-IVC, with just the S-IC and MS-II it is ~110 tons to LEO). Thus the Intermediate Saturn Launchers (ISL) program, which began in 1969. 2 rockets were approved, the Saturn II and the Saturn III, but only the Saturn III made it into full development.

ROCKET OVERVIEW: SATURN II |

Specifications:

Stage 1 (AS-II): 2x F-1A (RP-1/LOX)

Boosters: 2x UA1206 (PBAN)

Stage 2 (S-IVC): 2x J-2S (LH2/LOX)

Payload to LEO: 35 Metric Tons

A mid-level HLV, the Saturn II was envisioned to be in essence a bigger Saturn IG, but ultimately had no use case, especially with the Space Shuttle looming in the near future. 

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ROCKET OVERVIEW: SATURN III |

Specifications:

Stage 1 (S-III): 1x AJ-260X (PBAN)

Stage 2 (ES-II): 5x J-2S (LH2/LOX

Payload to LEO: ~65-70 tons

A large, and highly capable launch vehicle. The Saturn III is envisioned as the true middle-ground between the Saturn V and Saturn IG. Capable of 65 to 70 tons to LEO, it has sufficient capabilities which give it several use cases. The vehicle's early use will see it being used to launch the monolithic truss and solar wing packages to Skylab. In the future, however, NASA sees the Saturn III's potential for service in the future Advanced Apollo missions, which are in the early days of concept studies. The gargantuan AJ-260X solid rocket motor produces nearly 7 million pounds of thrust! And the ES-II stage on top is a modified (aka smaller) version of the Saturn V's S-II stage.

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Now that you're all caught up, let's watch this thing take to the skies.

October 5th, 1974: The launch of the Union Module, the first additional module to Skylab.

Yet again, CBS News struggles to have a clear broadcast as it did on Skylab 1. But the launch is a major success regardless, and demonstrates the new member of the Saturn rocket family as a capable launch vehicle.

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The upcoming ARV resupply vehicle gets its chance to shine, or at least part of it. Because Union has no onboard propulsion, the service module of ARV is used as a tug to bring the module to the station.

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Approaching to dock.

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Nailed it! With the successful addition of Union, Skylab has truly become the first ever modular space station. Another victory for NASA in the continuing space race. The success of Skylab has encouraged the Soviets to think bigger, bolder, and more ambitious. Thus they too begin studying modular space stations.

Meanwhile, NASA's brave robotic explorers continue to push the boundaries of what we think is possible. A new series of probes is poised for launch. 

Helios is a series of 2 twin-spacecraft (Helios A and Helios B respectively), intended to study solar processes by going into low eccentric Sun-orbits. They will be launched aboard the (almost) new Titan IIIE launch vehicle, the most capable Titan rocket so far.

Helios is a collaboration between NASA and West Germany's space agency, the DLR. This is one of the first major collaborations between the US and Europe on a science mission, and a key step to future cooperation. 

The spacecrafts are sort of hourglass-shaped, with their dual converging-diverging sunshields, which will protect their sensitive central cores from the intense heat at their perihelion (lowest point of orbit around the Sun). They carry several instruments, including magnetometers.

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Helios-A is successfully launched on its intended trajectory, and Titan IIIE gets its redemption after the first flight in February was a failure. Helios-B will be launched in early 1976. While the next Titan IIIE launches will be the Viking orbiter/lander missions to Mars.

Meanwhile, after 6 years cruising through space, Perdix has finally arrived at Jupiter.

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Perdix successfully enters orbit on November 29th, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit one of the outer planets, and the first spacecraft to visit one. Pioneer 10, which was intended to flyby Jupiter shortly before Perdix reached the planet, failed a few months after launch, and although probably did flyby Jupiter, no data of any kind was transmitted.

The images begin rolling in at JPL's Mission Control in Pasadena, giving humans the first ever up-close look at the largest planet in the Solar System.

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Astonishing and gorgeous photos, revealing the detail in Jupiter's cloud bands.

Perdix is geared up already for a first flyby of Io, the innermost Galilean moon, on December 10th.

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On December 6th, Perdix catches a faint glimpse of Io.

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On the 9th, Perdix passes Perijove (closest point in orbit to Jupiter)

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And finally, on December 10th: Hello Io

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Io is a truly fascinating world, colorful and vibrant, Perdix discovers one of the most interesting places in the Solar System, but has to wait to tell everyone back on Earth. The spacecraft was out of communications with Earth during the flyby, but had been pre-programmed to record data and then transmit once back in range.

Among other discoveries, Perdix finds evidence of Earth-like volcanism on Io. Lava flats, and afterwards visible plumes erupting from the surface.

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The spacecraft remains in good health post-flyby, despite passing through the intense radiation belts of Jupiter. Plans are underway for a flyby of Europa next year.

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NASA continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in spaceflight, and is more ambitious than ever. Preparations for Apollo 20 are now underway, alongside Skylab getting into operation.

On top of that, in Palmdale, California, at Air Force Plant 42: America's first Space Shuttle is taking shape

She will be named Enterprise.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Telescopes and Moon Landings

The telescope, one of humanity's greatest creations. The instrument that first allowed us to look out at those distant worlds that had merely been dots of light in the sky before. Since then, telescopes have gotten larger, more advanced, and incredibly more capable. From Galileo's telescope to William Herschel's giant 40-foot observatory, to the massive domed observatory telescopes of now, in the mid-1970s. But the idea of the space telescope is one that has intrigued many, and the benefits over ground-based telescopes are clearly seen.

For one, space telescopes do not have to deal with the interference from Earth's atmosphere, allowing them to make better observations of objects. 

The space telescope was another first that NASA could claim for themselves, with the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory telescopes. Although 2 out of 4 of them failed, 2 of the telescopes, OAO-2 (nicknamed Stargazer) and OAO-3 (nicknamed Copernicus) were successful, with Copernicus still operating as of late 1974. OAO-2 launched in 1968 and became the first ever space telescope.

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The OAO-2 spacecraft is pictured here.

Pressing on with the success of the OAO program, NASA started the Orbital Spectral Observatory Project (OSOP) in 1971. The goal was to make a space telescope with the distinct purpose of studying the spectral composition of stars and celestial objects. The resulting craft was named SPECTER, and after 3 years of development, was finally poised for launch in November 1974, just a few days after Thanksgiving.

The design of SPECTER was interesting because the spacecraft used what was basically the KH-9 service module as its own service module, but re-wired things to work for the telescope. This proved problematic but the never-ending budget hunger of the Apollo program, the US entering a period of economic stagnation, the ongoing oil crisis, and the fact that this was a relatively small program, meant that cost reduction and a bit of corner cutting was necessary.

A radiator was added to keep the thermal situation under control for the spectrometer instruments and different solar arrays provided sufficient power for long-term operations.

SPECTER was also interesting because it was designed with the intention to be serviceable on-orbit. With the upcoming Space Shuttle vehicle, the servicing and repair of satellites, previously a DoD daydream and a futuristic vision, would become a real possibility. On-orbit service life could be extended drastically, and satellites wouldn't be a failure if they had issues on orbit.

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November 30th, 1974: Launch of the SPECTER Space Telescope.

"And we have a liftoff of the Saturn IG rocket with the SPECTER Space Telescope, a next generation orbital observatory to study the composition of stars and other celestial objects!"

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The launch was successful and SPECTER was deployed from the S-IVC safely, however... one of the solar arrays and the radiator failed to deploy. The spacecraft had power to at least stay alive and could communicate with ground stations, but was useless without the extra power and thermal cooling.

NASA did not give up on the program however, and would hope for a successful repair by the Space Shuttle... eventually.

Apollo 20 quickly took center stage as NASA prepared for the "true beginning of Apollo Phase 2" as some said.

MISSION OVERVIEW |

Commander | Stuart Roosa

Command Module Pilot | Paul Weitz

Lunar Module Pilot | Don Lind

CSM "Constellation"

LM "Pioneer"

Landing Site: Marius Hills

This mission is the last of the originally planned Apollo missions, but was converted into a Phase 2 mission. 

This is also the debut of the upgraded Lunar Module, known simply as Block B. The Block B upgrade allows for surface stays of up to 7 days with more consumables, larger and more robust batteries, radiators for more long-term thermal control, and enhanced payload abilities. The Block B LM is a branch from the proposed LM "Taxi" variant in the Apollo Applications Program, which formed into the Apollo Projects Agency (which ended up in charge of development).

With these new capabilities Apollo 20 will be the first mission to spend 4 days on the lunar surface.

 

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December 10th, 1974: The Launch of Apollo 20

"And mark, T-15 seconds. Guidance is internal."

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"T-12, 11, 10, 9, we have ignition sequence start, 6, 5, 4, 3, engines building up thrust, 1..."

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"And we have all engines running and liftoff, liftoff of Apollo 20, an on-time liftoff this morning!"

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"The Saturn V has cleared the tower!"

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"All systems looking good, 20."

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"Vehicle is following a nominal trajectory."

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"20, Houston, you are GO for staging."

"Roger, GO for staging!"

"Staging!"

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"Good staging, all engines running."

Apollo 20 would land in the Marius Hills of the Moon on December 14th, 1974. The mission would have 5 EVAs, 4 of those being geologic traverses with the LRV. The mission's science data was immense, and not only that, in orbit, Command Module Pilot Paul Weitz would image a peculiar "hole" in the Marius Hills, while an explanation was not know, it was decent evidence for a lava tube on the surface of the Moon, the "hole" being a skylight into the tube. The crew were too far away to visit the hole, but it peaked the interest of the science teams back on Earth.

The crew safely returned back to Earth on December 23rd, 1974. Just in time for Christmas. NASA was planning for 2 more Apollo moon landings in 1975, and continued construction of Skylab.

Meanwhile, things were looking bleak for the Soviet moon program.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Too Routine

The Soviets had managed to pass the N1 off as a reliable Soviet moon rocket... 

The N1 was not that.

From its very first launch the N1 had suffered issues on every single one of its flights. Although a marvel of Soviet engineering it was rushed during development and suffered major technical problems. Luna 6 which launched a few weeks before Apollo 20 did succeed, but the next mission would not be the same.

65 seconds into the launch of Luna 7, the N1's first stage, known as Blok A, suffered several engine shutdowns, bringing the rocket below a TWR (Thrust-To-Weight Ratio) of 1, thus meaning the rocket was losing velocity, not gaining it. This triggered the crew abort system. The 2 cosmonauts aboard would not be visiting the Moon, but they would thankfully still be safely recovered.

While Apollo was becoming more and more advanced, now staying for up to 4 days on the surface with massive scientific returns, the Soviets struggled to stay for little more than 30 hours at most. The problems with the system were clear and apparent, there was no competition. The Soviets opted for one more N1 mission, and then to switch to a new mission plan currently under development.

At the forefront of this new plan is a brand new heavy-lift rocket.

Sokol

VEHICLE OVERVIEW: SOKOL |

Boosters: 2x RD-100 (effectively juiced up NK-33s)

Core Stage: 4x NK-33

Upper Stage (Proton Second Stage): 4x RD-0210

Payload: ≥35 tons?

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Sokol is the Russian equivalent to the English word "Falcon".

Sokol is a new breed of Soviet rocket, designed by Valentin Glushko, a rising force within the space program. Vasily Mishin's failures with the N1 rocket have made the Soviet elite grow tired of his management, giving Glushko the perfect opportunity to seize control. Sokol is designed for crew and cargo, and will be used in tandem with the planned LK-700 lander, a massive upgrade to the current LK, capable of carrying 3 people to the Moon, more than the Apollo Lunar Module.

Although it is higher performance than Proton, it is seen as a more reliable option to Proton, which has a history of failures and reliability issues. With the second stage removed it is capable of fulfilling the same duty of launching Salyut DOS modules than Proton K currently performs. The second stage assists with heavier payloads or beyond-LEO craft, such as the LK-700.

To Glushko, Sokol is just the beginning. The real prize is a series of much larger vehicles, capable of over 100 tons to LEO. Truly matching the Saturn V in capabilities. He has drawn some interest to these ideas, but nothing official has formulated so far.

Meanwhile... NASA continued to focus on it's 3 current goals:

Moon Landings, Skylab, and the Space Shuttle.

To kick things off this year, Skylab 3 is prepared to launch to the station.

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An uneventful routine launch and a successful docking to Skylab a little over 24 hours later.

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Next up, the third module of Skylab is ready for launch! Known as Serenity this module is the primary laboratory for the station. To be launched aboard a Saturn IG and using an SM tug which will deliver it to Skylab.

The LC-39 launchpads have been upgraded with dual lightning towers and enhanced GSE equipment to support triple-launch capabilities. (Saturn V, Saturn III, and Saturn IG)

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"This is Apollo-Saturn Launch Control, at T-1 minute, the Saturn IG's onboard computers are now in control of the countdown, and we remain go for launch at this time."

"E-1 engines building up thrust now."

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"Saturn IG lifting off now, all systems nominal."

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Serenity successfully docked to Union's port docking node. In other news as well, the first resupply mission to Skylab was launched!

Back in February a Saturn IG launched the first "ARV" (Autonomous Resupply Vehicle).

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The ARV is based off of a shorter Apollo service module, with a cargo module adding on top rather than an Apollo capsule. It is also solar powered!

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Skylab operations continue to expand, and the first solar truss segment is scheduled for launch in August. 

All told, 1975 is off to a great start for NASA. The Soviets, not so much.

 

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H2O

When Skylab was converted into the Skylab 80 design, one of the major components lost was the Apollo Telescope Mount, a large solar observatory which sat atop the docking adapter and would be swiveled upwards into place after launch.

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While the station would now become far more capable and longer-lasting, it had to pay the price of its large built-in observatory. The telescope however, wasn't scrapped as an idea all together.

NASA was keen to see the ATM transformed into its own standalone observatory, now known as the Apollo Solar Telescope, or AST. Modifications included the addition of a propulsion system, communications, and an avionics bus. While the whole setup was considered by many to be a jury-rigging of the telescope, it nonetheless would (hopefully) work as an independent spacecraft. The launch would be handled by Martin Marietta and their Hercules rocket, one of the winners of the Future Launchers contract.

The launch occurred on March 30th, a beautiful morning liftoff and a successful placement into orbit.

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Despite some small issues during calibration and testing, the telescope entered full operation on May 5th, 1975, and has an initial mission length of 2 years.

Moving onwards, NASA now prepares for the next mission to the Moon, Apollo 21.

By sheer luck (or the lack of Soviet luck) there was still no Soviet woman cosmonaut that had landed on the Moon. But now, there would be an American woman to land on the Moon. And her name... is Wally Funk.

Molly Cobb has also at this point been recalled to serve as the third female astronaut in NASA, having passed training with the new 1974 astronaut group, comprising 5 astronauts.

Without further ado, let's get into the overview for Apollo 21.

MISSION OVERVIEW: APOLLO 21 |

Crew:

Commander | Charlie Duke

Command Module Pilot | Ronald Evans

Lunar Module Pilot | Wally Funk

CSM "Mickey"

LM "Pluto"

Landing Site: Shackleton Crater, Lunar South Pole

But why Shackleton? Well, it all started with a brave little robotic lander on a daring mission.

On March 11th, 1975, an Atlas-Centaur rocket lifted off from the Cape carrying the Lunar Phoenix lander. The mission was to investigate the South Pole of the Moon from orbit and then on the surface. The launch was successful, and the spacecraft arrived at the Moon on May 18th, entering orbit and beginning a 2 day orbital survey before landing. 

During the survey, the spacecraft spots potential evidence of water ice in a South Pole crater, further orbital survey is done and Shackleton Crater is found to (potentially) have a large amount of water ice. Apollo 21 was already planned for a low latitude landing, so what's a little lower, eh? The teams made the decision to change landing sites, just 2 months from launch.

The ground teams scrambled to create a new equipment setup, including climbing gear for a potential venture down into the crater.

The spacecraft also found traces on the surface during its ground operations, before running out of battery power on March 25th. The spacecraft may have been just the result of a small low-cost mission, but it had made one of the most important discoveries about our Moon.

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Now that we have our exposition, let's see as the Saturn V takes flight once again.

"T-15 seconds, Guidance is internal."

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"T-12, 11, 10, 9, we have ignition sequence start, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..."

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"And liftoff! Liftoff of the Saturn V rocket and Apollo 21! The first expedition to the Lunar South Pole is on its way!"

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"Trajectory is nominal, 21."

"Roger, nominal trajectory."

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"Standing by for MECO, and S-IC sep."

"21, Houston, GO for Staging."

"Roger Houston, GO for Staging!"

"Staging..."

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The launch was a successful early morning liftoff on May 19th, 1975, with minimal trouble. A successful TLI after half an orbit and the 3 astronauts were well on their way to the Moon. Arriving on May 23rd, 

Landing about a half-mile from the rim of Shackleton, LM "Pluto" sits down on the surface. Charlie Duke would step out onto the surface of the Moon, becoming the first person to ever land on the Moon twice. Behind him would be Wally Funk, the first woman on the Moon.

5 EVAs scheduled with all of them busy, the crew were to get to work immediately, planting the stars and stripes, the 10th American Flag on the Moon. Following this, the ALSEP was set up. Back in orbit, Ronald Evans would primarily be focusing on the SIM bay instruments, which were doing a further ice survey of the Moon's surface.

EVA 2 would be a simple geologic traverse around the rim of the crater before returning. While EVA 3 would be the attempt to enter Shackleton and sample some ice. The crew had extra oxygen reserves for EVA 3 to allow for a longer search for ice. But still, 80% through their allotted time, not a single chunk of ice had been found.

Until finally, Wally Funk would recover what would appear to be a small chunk of ice, and shortly there afterwards, Duke would find a sample as well. This was incredible news. The 2 remaining EVAs wouldn't come close to the excitement of EVA 3, but nevertheless they were still valuable geologic traverses.

The orbital survey by the CSM would find that the South Pole is by far the most water-ice rich region on the Moon, making it the likely site for an eventual lunar base, as the ice could be refined into drinking water for the base inhabitants, and turned into Hydrolox fuel for potential reusable landers.

The crew of Apollo 21 would return home to a hero's welcome, splashing down on June 2nd, 1975. 

A fantastic mission that would go down in the history books as one of the most important.

We're not done just yet though, how is Skylab holding up? Well, despite still living in the shadow of Apollo, it is holding up incredibly well.

Skylab 4 would launch on July 3rd, 1975, and arrive a day later, on Independence Day.

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The S3 truss launch was pushed upwards to August 5th. This is the first solar truss of the station, a core addition to the Skylab 80 proposal, these large trusses support the massive solar wings that will provide power to the station, which now has many more modules and components to provide power to.

Meanwhile, NASA continues to look towards the future, and how their plans will unfold in this second half of the 70s, and into the 1980s.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Future Is Now


NASA has always been pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Just as much as it is a Moon program, Apollo has also served to further many technologies and develop new ones entirely. But as NASA prepares for more complex, and bolder missions, many new vehicles and new hardware are required. One of the major ones being nuclear propulsion. NASA has been developing nuclear engines since the late 60s, as part of the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA) program. The program has now to this point been working on a large nuclear-engine with an extendable nozzle, once its testing phase was completed in 1972. NERVA has been criticized for its cost, and by anti-nuclear groups as dangerous (when it in reality isn't a danger at all). Despite this, NASA has pressed on with the project, even in the face of continual budget cuts yearly caused by the ongoing economic troubles in the country.

On the other hand, the Saturn V, while being a legendary launch vehicle and the most iconic rocket of all time to this point, will not be capable of launching these massive nuclear payloads into space. And NASA has long yearned for more advanced rockets. Starting with the Saturn MLV concepts in the 60s, the design evolved into the Advanced Saturn Launch Vehicles (ASLVs) family. With an original intention to have a common family of rockets (8 theoretical configurations) capable of at maximum over 200 tons to LEO. Eventually NASA, after investing and only getting 1 ISLV rocket, would get funding for 2 of the vehicles, The A02, and A07.

ROCKET OVERVIEW: SATURN A02 |

Core Stage: 2x F-1A

Upper Stage: 2x RL-20 P3

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The Saturn A02 is intended to be used for large Earth science payloads and interplanetary missions, as well as components for Advanced Apollo and future Moon missions. The cost of the vehicle is low thanks to it using existing... everything. The only major investment is making larger tanks for the first stage.

ROCKET OVERVIEW: SATURN A07 |

Boosters: 2x UA120H

Core Stage: 5x F-1A

Upper Stage: 7x RL-20 P3

Payload to LEO: yes

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That's a Bonkers Big Mega Rocket if I've ever seen one.

The A07 will be the largest rocket ever (in height, darn you N1 and your never ending taper), and will just about DOUBLE the Soviet N1 in total thrust. Finally making an American rocket once again the most powerful ever after the N1 took the throne from the Saturn V.

While the A02 required minimal development, the same story cannot be told for the A07. The rocket required the development of some of the largest Solid Rocket Boosters ever, based off of the UA120 series, and known as the UA120H. They are gargantuan boosters, producing the majority of the thrust at liftoff, with 5 F-1As in between them. This rocket's use case is clear, it will be used to launch the entire nuclear propulsion stage for Advanced Apollo, while the Space Shuttle is planned to launch the habitat module, crew, and supplies, in one go. The Saturn III will handle the lander, which we'll get to shortly.

One of the things that was required for the ASLV family was a brand new upper stage hydrolox engine. The J-2 is great and all, but as rocket engines mature new types of them can be developed, with even higher thrust and efficiency.

Enter: the RL-20 P3

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Much like the upcoming Space Shuttle Main Engine, the RL-20 P3 is unbelievably ahead of its time. utilizing an advanced rocket engine cycle known as Staged Combustion, this engine has the efficiency of an RL-20 with the thrust of a J-2, in a compact form factor as well, incorporating an extendable nozzle.

The engine has been in development since 1974 and has assisted in the accelerated development of the Space Shuttle Main Engine.

And now like I was saying, the lander for Advanced Apollo:

The Advanced Lunar Surface Module (ALSM)

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The ALSM is a major evolution of the Lunar Module, it's capabilities are exactly what NASA needs for long-term sustainable lunar exploration. It is partially reusable, the ascent stage can be refueled and given another descent stage, although NASA plans to eventually evolve the lander into a fully reusable configuration, with the ascent stage only retaining its propulsion for aborts.

The ALSM has the capability to carry 4-6 astronauts to the lunar surface, and can operate without a base for up to a month, and is practically its own lunar base. The lander also has plentiful space for surface equipment and scientific instruments.

While there have been many developmental issues for Advanced Apollo, this lander can be considered the bright spot so far.

NASA intends for the lander to be used past Advanced Apollo, which due to budget constraints is already looking like it will have a short lifetime, only Apollo 26 through 30 will be AA missions. The plan has now shifted for this phase to be the final one of Apollo, before shifting into a new program in the 80s, cool name not yet determined.

While the agency continues to put on a smile, things aren't looking too great. The primary criticism of NASA remains its spending and cost overruns, which have become even worse with Advanced Apollo and NERVA. The Saturn-Shuttle is also under criticism.

The S-IC is expensive, quite expensive. Compared to Thiokol's SRBs it is very expensive. This has forced NASA into already accepting Saturn-Shuttle as a failed idea, and has given the go ahead for Thiokol to develop its SRBs, which will eventually replace the S-IC, bringing the Shuttle back to its original form.

The Saturn-Shuttle would've been the last holdout of the Saturn rockets, and it now has a date for retirement, Thiokol expects it to have the SRBs ready by STS-8, the 8th Shuttle mission. NASA is continuing to develop all of this, knowing it will likely go nowhere.

But they have no choice, they can't keep doing the same CSM/LM quick 5 day missions because that won't get them anywhere. So it's a necessary waste to give the Shuttle time to mature before it could hopefully serve as the basis for a new generation of more sustainable rockets.

This is, for NASA, the least unacceptable solution.

At least there's light at the end of the tunnel.

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Hello, Enterprise.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Success and Failure

1975 still had a few months left to go, but NASA's schedule remained as busy as ever. To kick things off, a routine resupply mission to Skylab on July 12th.

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The Saturn IG continuing to be 'ol reliable for NASA. With the ARV successfully docking to Skylab after a picture perfect launch.

Next up, is the first of the large truss pieces for Skylab, the S3. This truss carries one solar wing and will provide power to the station as it continues to grow. The S3 truss will eventually be relocated when the S1 truss arrives and the S2 truss shortly afterwards. This large solar array is folded up like an accordion and will be unfolded over the course of a few hours after a spacewalk is be performed to make external connections and run wiring. 

The power margin boost that will be provided by the S3 truss is immense, while the truss itself is nothing special, it carries a hefty box-shaped module on the end, which is the solar wing stowed in its launch configuration. The wing carries 2 arrays, each 112 feet long and 39 feet wide (34.1 m long, 11.8m wide), and these arrays have 2 panels each.

These wings, of which there will be 3 total (which will give Skylab an asymmetric appearance), provide the power for the larger planned modular station. Once the truss is complete, plans are in place for the de-commissioning of Prosperity's arrays.

The launch will be done by the Saturn III, this being its second launch. The Saturn III will be needed for the S2 truss as well, (the S1 truss has no array and is simply just a connecting piece between the S3 and S2, so the Saturn IG can fulfill that launch), it's large fairing and high payload capacity being necessary.

August 5th, 1975: The Launch of the S3 Truss to Skylab.

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The truss arrives about 20 hours later...

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After Spacewalk 8 is successfully performed by the crew of Skylab 4 on August 7th, the deployment of the solar arrays begins the next day.

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Array 1 was deployed in less than an hour.

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Array 2 took longer due to some issues with the deployment, but nonetheless was successfully deployed after 90 minutes or so.

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The S3 truss also contains a large radiator, which allows for much better thermal control on the station than Prosperity's "wing radiators". The S2 truss will also have a set of these radiators.

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Skylab's first truss piece has been added and deployed, the station will remain like this for a while, as NASA awaits the rest of the major components to be completed and ready for launch. The station has been experiencing some issues lately, primarily with systems aboard Prosperity, including the C02 scrubbers, which might make the station uninhabitable. Work is being done to fix them, and if nothing can truly fix them, then NASA may send up new scrubbers on a resupply mission. 

But for now NASA's focus shifts to the next mission to the Moon, Apollo 22, this mission will attempt to spend almost 5 days on the surface.

MISSION OVERVIEW: APOLLO 22 |

Commander | John Young

Lunar Module Pilot | Molly Cobb

Command Module Pilot | Paul Weitz

CSM "Valiant" LM "Steadfast"

Landing Site: Tycho Crater

The mission's purpose is to study Tycho Crater, and do another Surveyor rendezvous, this time with Surveyor 7. The second night launch of the Saturn V, and the first of Block II. On a cold, damp Autumn night, Apollo 22 lifts off into the skies.

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The mission is flawless, up until the point when the LM "Steadfast" begins its descent towards Tycho Crater, due to navigational and guidance errors, the lander misses Tycho, and is forced to find an alternative site. NASA has started to choose nearby backup sites in the event of something such as this, but the crew was not totally prepared for such an occurance, and scrambles to locate the backups and prepare for a landing. The Lunar Module is pushed to its limits as millions watch anxiously back on Earth.

With just 5% fuel remaining in the descent stage, Steadfast lands on the surface of the Moon. The mission schedule has to be altered, and Valiant has to perform a slightly different alignment burn. Several hours are cut off the mission, but nevertheless, all EVAs are still scheduled as planned.

The crew investigate the geology of the site, conducting a total of 4 EVAs, not much scientifically is discovered, besides some funny shaped rocks. Apollo 23 is moved to land at Tycho, and will launch earlier than planned, in December of this year. This is the first time 2 Moon missions are so close together since the rapid fire of early 1969, with Apollo 10 and 11 being just 2 months apart.

Steadfast lifts off from the surface of the Moon on October 1st, 1975, docking with Valiant in orbit. The crew safely splash down in the Pacific Ocean on October 5th, 1975. After a less than optimal mission.

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The mission is technically a success, but from a scientific viewpoint, it is a failure. Nothing of interest was learned or gained, only some more rocks were brought back. The LM's avionics and guidance systems are adjusted for Apollo 23 and future missions to hopefully prevent such an occurance from happening again. Later reports would indicate that this site-switch could have resulted in the loss of the crew if not for their skill and experience in finding the backup site quickly. NASA will now perform training scenarios that mimic the conditions of Apollo 22 for all future moon missions.

But meanwhile in the Soviet Union, a true Moon mission failure has occurred.

Luna 7 was planned to be yet another Soviet moon landing, a boring Soviet moon landing. While NASA was performing major geologic studies of the Moon, the Soviets were only able to plant flags, and bag rocks. The N1 continued to be a headache for everyone, and Glushko's rising influence meant that this era of Soviet lunar exploration was almost certainly coming to a close. This would just be a nail in the coffin if it failed.

The launch was off to a good start... until

The N1 began to veer off course...

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Then it went off course even more...

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Thankfully the abort system was triggered.

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However, the parachute was ripped off of Soyuz's descent capsule, and thus both cosmonauts had to eject and use their own parachutes. They were recovered safely with only minor injuries.

If this is supposed to be the nail in the coffin, well it's being hammered in right now. There would be one more flight for the N1, Luna 8, and if it failed, no more. Glushko was already proposing a far better system utilizing Sokol, capable of transporting 3 cosmonauts to the moon in a direct ascent profile, and utilizing a refueling module. This would hopefully bring the Soviets on par with Apollo, at least until Advanced Apollo blew both out of the water. But the determined Soviet Union refused to give up the Moon to the United States, it didn't matter how many times they failed, the dream of the Red Moon would stay alive. But the Red White and Blue Moon was looking ever more likely as time went on.

Both sides latest Moon missions had not exactly gone to plan, but for the Soviets, things were far worse. 

At least... until...

 

 

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Scrubbers

"Skylab Houston we're going to need you to execute emergency C02 procedures, do you copy?"

"Skylab Houston do you copy?"

"Roger Houston Skylab."

"We're gonna need you to execute emergency C02 procedures immediately."

"Copy Houston."

An excerpt from Skylab radio transmissions on October 21st, 1975.

Emergency procedures state that in the event that C02 levels within the station exceed maximum limits and cannot be lowered, the crew must equip breathing devices and ingress the CSM for an evacuation. The C02 scrubbers on Skylab had been acting up for a while now, and in the early morning of October 21st, 1975, the monitored C02 levels rose above acceptable levels, and they could not be lowered. The crew were notified after a brief panic due to communication issues, and they followed the procedures perfectly.

The crew calmly executed the plans, equipping C02 filter masks, closing hatches, grabbing any equipment that could be returned, and heading into the CSM. It took a total of about 10 minutes for all 3 crew to be back inside the Apollo capsule.

The crew stayed in the CSM for a while before the decision was made to evacuate and return to Earth. The Skylab space station was abandoned, but not given up on. NASA had an easy solution ahead of them. All they had to do was launch an ARV with replacement scrubbers and hardware, and then the next crew of Skylab 5 could install them in an internal EVA, or an IVA, and then recycle the station's air. 

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The station will be abandoned until the next ARV launches sometime in March/April next year. This is a minor setback for the program, but a major PR loss for NASA, despite perfectly executing a safe return for the astronauts.

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Apollo 23 is pushed into next year after issues with the CSM's Service Module. NASA's schedule for the year has been practically cleared.

But the now European Space Agency is ready for its shot at redemption. A modified (and hopefully fixed) Europa rocket is ready for flight in Kourou.

December 9th, 1975: The Launch of Europa II

"Dix.."

"Neuf..."

"Huit..."

"Sept..."

"Six..."

"Cinq..."

"Quatre..."

"Trois..."

"Deux..."

"Un..."

"Démarrage du moteur!"

"Décollage!"

Europa II lifts off from Kourou, no video coverage but the launch went well.

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This new redesign is French and German, with no British involvement as they pursue the Comet launch vehicle. The first stage and second stage are French, while the boosters and fairing are produced in West Germany.

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This second stage, known as Astro, is hydrolox, and similar to the American Centaur upper stage in capabilities. The French have been quick to embrace hydrogen as an upper stage fuel, and this stage is an example of that. Utilizing a small but very efficient HM6 hydrogen engine, it helps loft a maximum of up to 2 tons into orbit. The Europa redesign is far more capable and reliable than the original mess of a rocket, while maybe not looking as exciting or as cool.

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Cutoff, and successful orbital insertion. France and Germany have joined the club of space-faring nations alongside the US and the Soviet Union. The Germans have jokingly said that they are 3rd because of the fairing being at the top of the rocket, and thus reaching the Karman line first.

The US issues a congratulatory statement to ESA and the nations involved, which expresses potential interest in future cooperation in spaceflight. This is the foundations for international cooperation in space, upon which humanity will explore the planets and beyond.

NASA, despite the Skylab setbacks, continues to march on, with ESA joyous over the success of Europa II's launch, and the Soviets reeling from the failure of Luna 7, unsure about the very future of their lunar exploration program.

1975 has concluded, and the next year may hold many surprises.

Maybe even something special...

something...

with wings...

 

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Something With Wings

February 2nd, 1976

"Ladies and Gentleman, I could not be more excited to be here with you today. Today we stand in front of the future of American spaceflight, a revolutionary vehicle which pushes the capabilities of current technology to their absolute limit, proving that America is truly the pioneer in space."

"This amazing piece of technology, assembled by all of these incredible men and women over the past 2 years, is the culmination of 15 years of experience gained, since Alan Shepard's small Mercury capsule aboard the mighty little Redstone rocket put an American into space for the very first time. This is a testament to American ingenuity, and the capability of this nation to innovate, and to excel."

"So with that said, I present, to all of you."

"Space Shuttle Enterprise!"

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Enterprise sits atop the specially-built Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, derived from the 747 it is suited to the task of carrying the Shuttle much more effectively than the regular 747.

After all of these years, America's Space Shuttle has finally arrived. Enterprise, officially designated OV-101 (Orbiter Vehicle-101) is the first Space Shuttle to be built, NASA plans for 5 total orbiters to be built initially in this first series. To save costs, one of the Shuttle's structural test articles, known as STA-099, is going to be converted into a fully-fledged Shuttle Orbiter. The rest of the Shuttles will be built like Enterprise, from the ground up. Although not entirely like Enterprise, because although she is America's first Space Shuttle, she is undoubtedly going to be the least-capable by the time the final Orbiter enters service.

Enterprise was built in somewhat of a hurry, and is very heavy, the next 4 Shuttles are intended to be much lighter. Enterprise also doesn't use as many of the specialty components as the other Shuttles will, as they are not ready yet, but at some point NASA does plan to upgrade Enterprise to be on-par with the rest of the Shuttles.

The next Shuttle, OV-102 has already begun construction, and should hopefully be delivered to NASA later next year.

For now though, Enterprise will prepare for the "Approach and Landing Tests" which will test the Shuttle as a glider on descent, after being released from atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The ALTS will also include other things, such as taxi tests, and captive flights, without releasing the Orbiter.

With NASA's crown jewel now preparing to get ready, NASA's other crown jewel is finally about to get back into action. Skylab's rescue procedures have been prepared, and the astronauts of Skylab 5 trained for them. Now we await the launch of the next ARV, which will have these components ready and waiting for the astronauts when they arrive.

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The Saturn IG continues to be 'ol reliable, and the ARV docks with Skylab 23 hours later. Next, the crew of Skylab-5 await launch as they prepare to rescue the station from Carbon Dioxide infestation. This flight has been labeled in the media as the "Return to Skylab", with major coverage on CBS planned.

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This is also the first mission to utilize a 4th seat aboard the CSM. Block III is planned to eventually have 5 seats, but NASA wants to slowly work their way up to 5. The 4th seat has been installed below the original 3 seats, and there will also be space for the 5th seat when the time comes

Once docked to Skylab, the crew begin their work to filter out the C02 from the station. They must continue to get oxygen from their pressure suits due to the high C02 levels within the Prosperity module. They first remove the current C02 scrubbers, noticing damage and wiring issues after removal. They then install the new C02 scrubbers, which caused some difficulty due to the bulky pressure suit gloves. Regardless they managed to install all of the new scrubbers. Following this the crew began to cycle the station's air, to remove the C02 and bring back in more breathable air. After about 3 hours the C02 levels were back within normal limits, and the crew could finally remove their pressure suits and settle in for the 105 day stay aboard America's Space Station.

Meanwhile in the commercial market, Europa has started to stir things up quite a bit, this funny little European rocket's low cost and impressive capabilities have caught the attention of many small nations looking to launch satellites for communications purposes. 

This has caused a lot of the major American aerospace companies to wake up, nurtured by their Government lifelines they haven't exercised the full potential of the commercial market as a revenue service.

Except one...

Grumman's Valkyrie rocket is a stalwart of the commercial market as of now, alongside their very interesting SSV rocket, which is in essence a rocket plane carrying a small solid-fuel rocket on its back to high altitude. These 2 rockets are about the only competition Europa has for the moment, but the bigger companies have started to take notice, and they may soon take action.

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The Soviets are still concerned over the future of their moon program, NASA is starting to wind down Phase 2 with Apollo 23 scheduled for the fall after numerous delays, and Europe is becoming a leader in the commercial market, all as we enter the second half of the 1970s.

What does the future hold? Only time will tell, but there are reasons to be excited, and reasons to be worried.

But that Space Shuttle sure is something, ain't it?

 

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1976

Welcome to the second half of the 1970s, things have changed a lot in just half of this decade. As things appear right now, despite both sides reaching the Moon, the US has decisively won the Moon Race, with Apollo still going, and the Soviet moon program on the brink of cancellation. Europe has emerged into the world of spaceflight as a blooming commercial satellite market allows the small agency to fund itself and prepare for planned scientific missions in the coming years.

Meanwhile the British, after splitting ways from the Europa project and ESA, have successfully brought the Comet rocket to fruition, after a first few successful launches it is beginning to launch commercial payloads, and is a significant threat to undercut Europa in the commercial market. Comet's modularity and high performance give it a large range of capabilities, even larger than Comet. This has been a driving factor in the rocket securing launch contracts.

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Meanwhile, Skylab has recovered from it's C02 incident and returned to normal operations, with many of the components taking far more time to develop, and primarily waiting on the Space Shuttle, the station will remain practically the same for about a year, the next module to be launched will be the Destiny Module, which will carry the docking system for the Space Shuttle.

Speaking of the Space Shuttle, Enterprise has been delivered to NASA. The first Shuttle, she is to first perform the Approach and Landing Tests in the summer of 1976, before being flown to the KSC to prepare for STS-1. Manufacturing of the S-IC and External Tank for the first Shuttle mission are well underway, even as Thiokol begins testing its SRB design planned to replace the S-IC.

Speaking of stuff with a C, LC-39C is nearly finished with its construction! The 3rd LC-39 launchpad, originally cancelled but now considered necessary with the expected flight rate of both the Space Shuttle and the ASLVs. The Saturn IG as well will continue to fly for at least a few years until the Shuttle can be proven reliable and have achieved a high enough launch cadence to support Skylab, after which it is expected to be retired. LC-39D is lagging behind with construction but is expected to be ready by 1979, when it will certainly be needed for the complex Advanced Apollo launch plans.

Advanced Apollo has come under criticism for its "complex" and "expensive" nature, as opposed to the simple one-launch Apollo Phase 1 and 2 missions, Advanced Apollo will require 3 launches, 2 of which will be from large rockets like the Saturn A07 and Saturn III. NASA has denied these claims, saying that as time goes on, and the nuclear transfer vehicle can be reused, costs will drop dramatically and the program will enter its sustainable phase. The concerns over the use of the nuclear vehicle to ferry the crew with no escape vehicle have also been blasted in NASA's direction, anti-nuclear groups have heavily criticized them for this plan, but NASA has assured the public and Congress that the LTV's nuclear engine is safe and reliable, despite being a large prototype engine but that's getting into unnecessary specifics, right?

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Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, the Soviet space program is in a frenzy trying to figure out its future: plans of a large space station, a better moon landing architecture, and are we still even competing with the Americans? That large space station by the way is called Mir, and is expected to be ready for launch by the early 1980s assuming all goes well and funding doesn't dry up. Valentin Glushko has now at this point replaced Vasily Mishin as head of the program, and begun pursuing not only his Sokol rocket, but also his massive Energiya rocket, with almost the same thrust as the original Saturn V it is supposed to be for massive station modules, comically large spy satellites, and [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED], which is from the [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED].

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Also, Europe isn't alone in the new members section of the Spaceflight Club, China has developed what it calls the "Long March" rocket family, with 3 variants having launched so far, Long March 1, Long March 2, and Long March 2A. India has also recently put its first satellite into orbit, Aryabhata, which happened back in April of 1975 aboard a Soviet Kosmos-3M rocket.

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Launch of a Long March 2A

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India's first satellite: Aryabhata

As the world slowly expands its reach into the cosmos, it is no longer the 2 superpowers of the world with sole access to space, smaller countries, either alone or together, are making their own efforts to explore, and discover. Humanity cannot truly become a space-faring civilization on the backs of 2 superpowers, it must work together, as a whole, for all mankind.

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